On and Off the Beaten Track in …The Gush Etzion Winery

by | in Israel

Over a decade ago, Shraga Rosenberg, a longtime resident of Efrat, had a dream. He envisioned the Biblical blessing Yaakov promised to his son Yehudah being fulfilled once again in Judea, the area inherited by the Tribe of Yehudah more than 3,000 years ago.

In that blessing, the imagery of wine figures prominently. “Binding unto the vine, his foal, and unto the choice vine, the colt of his ass; he will launder his garments in wine and his robe in the blood of grapes. His eyes shall sparkle with wine, and his teeth white with milk” (Bereishit 49:11-12). Commenting on these verses, Rashi states, “[Yaakov] prophesized regarding the land of Yehudah, that it would produce wine like a fountain.”

Efrat is located in Gush Etzion, in the heart of Judea, just south of Jerusalem. Rosenberg believed in the possibility of renewing a wine industry in a region that, for thousands of years, was known for its vine growing and wine. The mountainous terrain and relatively high elevation of the Gush Etzion area are ideal for growing grapes. In 1995, Rosenberg and his wife, Tamar, manufactured their first few bottles of blackberry wine in their basement. With the encouragement of friends and neighbors who tasted those first fruit wines, Rosenberg left his work as manager of a senior citizens’ home to pursue his life’s dream. Not long after, the Gush Etzion Winery was born.

Nearly a decade later, in September 2004, the Rosenbergs, in cooperation with The Tishbi Winery of the Binyamin Region and with the support of an overseas investor, opened a boutique winery at the Gush Etzion Junction.

Currently, the Gush Etzion Winery boasts 100 acres of vineyards on which eleven types of wine grapes are grown. Producing 35,000 bottles annually, the winery sells a wide variety of wines including cabernet, merlot, chardonnay and special dessert wines made from sauvignon blanc and white riesling grapes, all under the certification of the OU. One of the Rosenbergs’ most popular wines is made from blackberries. Wine lovers in the States can purchase these wines on the Internet at www.gushetzion-winery.com as well as at Kedem outlets in the United States.

Rosenberg’s dream did not stop with producing wine. One of his purposes in establishing the winery was to familiarize wine lovers in general, and Jews in particular, with the history of the region. The winery will be soon market a new line of wines that will tell the story of Gush Etzion. The first such wine, Nahal Pirim 2005, will feature a label that describes King Herod’s monumental water system that brought water from the springs of Gush Etzion to Jerusalem. The sophisticated water system passed through the wadi at the foot of modern-day Efrat.

The Gush Etzion Junction is easily accessible by car, located only fifteen minutes from Jerusalem. The first grapes are delivered to the winery during August, so a visit in the fall will enable you to see it in full production. From the terrace of the Visitors’ Center, one can view some of the vineyards. The Visitors’ Center was designed so that guests can observe the entire process of winemaking from a gleaming metal bridge that overlooks the production area. The French oak barrels in which the fine wines are aged are visible through glass windows, and the fragrance is intoxicating! Of course, the highlight of such a visit is the wine tasting, and Rosenberg will be happy to oblige you. Be sure to also visit the dairy restaurant on the premises.

Coincidentally, the Rosenbergs happen to live on a street named Rechov Tirosh (rough translation: “First Wine of the Season” Street), in the Gefen (Grapevine) neighborhood of Efrat. The Rosenbergs have been privileged to return the production of wine to the Judean Hills, where it thrived thousands of years ago. Come to the winery, and taste the blessing of the land and feel part of Yehudah’s blessing.

Mr. Abelow is a licensed tour guide and the associate director of Keshet: The Center for Educational Tourism in Israel. Keshet specializes in running inspiring and enjoyable tours of Israel for congregations, schools and families. Mr. Abelow can be reached at 972-54-313-3712 or at peter@keshetisraeli.co.il.

This article was featured in Jewish Action Fall 2007.

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